Montage Project 2 + 9 – ‘Dirt’ + ‘Text’ = ‘Dirty Text’

Dirt.

It has been a dark cloud over this Montage Of Beautiful Things since week 2 (in my case anyway). Initially the idea was to have a P.O.V video with two conflicting sides of the same mind. The idea was humourous and simple, yet it also delivered a significant message. A message that I deemed too strong to simply be implied in a comedic artefact – an idea that became a narration, and then became a monologue, but which still didn’t work – right up until week 9, when the answer presented itself:

Text.

DIRT – FIRST SEQUENCE – ‘The Walk’

The initial idea was to create a montage project every week (fat chance), but by week 2, wedged between two rather good attempts (Wall and Time) sat this little idea here. My initial thoughts about the word ‘dirt’ led to a fascination with bad language, and I wanted to do something revolving around that. This led to the idea of using dirty minds, or dirty ways of thinking. I knew this would create a humourous video, which would have gone down well given the rather serious nature of my other artefacts. I also knew the idea was simple – P.O.V shots and a voice over, sort of like Peep Show, a clip of which can be seen here:

For simplicity’s sake, I figured the best way to go about making a video like this would be to do a video from my own point of view, and trace a series of thoughts that actually go on in my head (foul language and all). However, despite seemingly having all the components, there seemed to be something missing… something rather important. That was, the inclusion of ‘dirt’ itself.

I went to the forest between Coventry and Warwick University (beyond the memorial park) with a PDX10, and filmed a journey that I took through the woods. Initial thoughts were largely focused on whether or not I was making back to civilization alive, but then (with a certain irony) I started included thoughts on what I was actually going to do for the ‘dirt’ project set by my university this week. The trail of thought crossed back over the War Memorial Park, and it was over three minutes into the film before the answer of ‘what is dirt’ was even remotely answered.

I asked myself time and time again, and the notion I concluded was that I wanted to represent dirt as something that other things grow out of. Everyone else in the year seemed to have completed an artefact based around cleanliness. I wanted to do something different. I started my film with a shot of my foot stepping in some mud (ample amount in the forest), which started the ‘conversation’.

I came across the problem of needing a two-way conversation, and so decided to make 2 alternate versions of myself, effectively me talking to myself inside my head. The idea started off okay, but yet it made the artefact needing to be quite long, in order for an audience to understand the context of what was going on. To make things even more complicated, I also came upon the notion that dirt did not have to be physical – physical dirt was obvious and boring, and I wanted to do something metaphorical. The idea of having the ‘dirt of society’ is a common one, yet if I could create the sort-of parable that without poverty, the higher-classes societies would not exist, my artefact would have weight, which is what I was aiming for.

However, although this idea was a really good idea, it was the failing point of this initial attempt. Myself as an artist have no right to make such a sweeping statement. Seven minutes in, when the voices finally got round to discussing metaphorical dirt in a modern society, it just made me sound egoistic. It was a good point, but also a sensitive one. It followed the ideals that governments should fear the public, and not the other way around. Yet the delivery did not make that impression. I was unhappy about it, and given the sensitive nature of the message, I decided to discontinue my production of this first piece. I was now already behind on ‘City’ as well, and with one word a week for the next two months, I knew this would be a burden for quite a while yet.

The voice-overs of the first piece were conducted using my favourite compilation of using a reporters mic attached to a Marantz in my room. I tried to convey two theatrical sides of my personality – the serious and the crazed. It was my intention to show extracts of this first project on my post, but the audio files seem long deleted, and as the rest are merely unedited shots of me walking with a camera, it doesn’t really amount to much, so I’ll move quickly on.

DIRT – SECOND SEQUENCE – ‘The Slow-Mo Monologue’

By about week 7, ‘Shape’ was in the bag along with ‘City’ and several others, giving me the first window in weeks to return back to ‘Dirt’ and start developing a new idea. The idea of the poor being the dirt to the rich would still be the main focal point, and I would still need to impose this idea using verbal communication. This time however, I had a better idea – I would create something of a ‘slow-motion monologue’ – that is, a monologue that is overplayed with slow-motion shots. I would take several shots of the first and the city in slow-motion, and then incorporate the monologue, the same way I used audio in the first sequence. This project would then also allow me to explore the ‘Smooth Slow Record’ function on the Z5 cameras, which we had been introduced to weeks before, but which I had not yet got round to experimenting with.

I made several test shots in my room to understand the benefits and limitations of smooth slow record. I managed to get some good shots – notably what would become the opening shot, the ‘360 loop shot’ (which is no safe way to take videos with a Z5). The original test shots can be viewed here:

After conducting this test shoot, all that was left was to return to the forest and get the shots. I took the forest shots first, and got a variety of shots. Ever shot was taken in smooth slow record. I got several 360 loop shots, several spinning shots, and several ones that corkscrewed or twisted. The beauty of it was that without smooth slow record, it was really jittery and unprofessional. With my steady hands, throwing the Z5 camera around in the space of 6 seconds led to really smooth transitions and footage of almost impossible shots. I also experimented a lot with pull-focus shots, and got some really nice ones of zoom-shots cutting through large portions of forest land. I subsequently went to the city to get the ‘urban’ footage, though I was increasingly aware of including people in my video. Thus, I went to more secluded areas to get footage of waterfalls, pigeons, and walls. There were also several shots of buildings, but they looked boring on the final cut, and were thus cut out.

The footage was placed in Final Cut Pro, and awaited my monologue. However, only a few words in, I realised that sadly once again the artefact didn’t ‘fee right’. My voice, despite devoid of any emotion other than pessimism, just didn’t seem to fit the message I was trying to get across. I still sounded judgmental, and the effect I wanted still seemed to be eluding me. I had no answer to how the monologue was going to work out. Thoughts of doing a complete re-vamp using the collected footage was in the works… right up until the final word was unveiled, and the answer unveiled.

DIRT + TEXT – FINAL SEQUENCE

We were set the ninth word, ‘Text’, and I immediately coupled it with Dirt. ‘Colourful Symmetry’ was already set, with me now combining words to reduce the workload by 50%. It took mere seconds before the pieces of puzzle fell into place. From last year, I knew that my Macbook could essentially ‘speak’ the words I typed on Pages documents. The Macbook would be the futuristic, non-human narrator of the piece. Although my name would be on it, this would now be a post-modern, experimental-narrative-orientated piece that made the point without stepping on too many toes. I tried the robotic version of the monologue, and realised it worked. I was happy with the set-up, although recording the ‘speech’ function through the Macbook led to a lot of feedback from the mics, meaning I had to record the Macbook monologue the same way I’d recorded my own voice throughout the past weeks.

Then, I went about experimenting with editing technique, having just learned how to use grading, and now seeking to expand my skills beyond my boundaries and secure an ‘intermediate – advanced’ level of understanding the full capabilities of ‘FCP’. I used my revised knowledge of editing and just ran about all over the shop – almost every single shot in the final cut has been edited in some way or another – we’ve got de-saturations, grading, opacity controls, fades, flips, reversed shots… and of course it’s all in slow-motion. To top it off (and to cement that word ‘text’ clearly into this project) I included random words that held the most relevance to the point I was trying to make (e.g. ‘Foundation’ and ‘Empire’). The whole video was so surreal the words suited the project perfectly. Believe it or not as well, this was the first project where I’d actually learned what a ‘wireframe’ was.

My editing skills have probably doubled with this project, and it has been a long time coming. This is likely to be one of the most surreal pieces for my montage, yet will not look out of place alongside my previous efforts. It’s a lot more post-modern than most of my work – I don’t tend to do this type of video production. But for what’s it’s worth… I quite like it!

The final version can be seen here. It is uploaded on Youtube, as access to Vimeo for myself is now out of bounds until after the deadline date:

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